This is a how-to on being alone.
I’m a second-year college student and have been discovering the beauty behind being alone for the past six months after struggling for several years with immensely painful loneliness. There is a difference between being lonely and being alone, and this is my attempt to describe my ongoing quest from point A to point B. After starting school in August 2012 with few friends shortly after a rough break-up, having to live at home with full-time working parents to save money, being thrust into independence without mental preparation, saying goodbye to some good people, and then experiencing another heart-breaking break-up a year later, it’s safe to say that I have been in the process of being taught a grandiose lesson on the art of being alone.
Have I mastered this so-called “art”? By no means. I still experience fits of “woe is me”, have periodic breakdowns, and feel enough loneliness to write a 70-page book of lamentations.
But things have changed for me, slowly but surely. And I know I’m not the only one who’s been feeling this way for so long.
Thus, I am glad to introduce my first how-to, which I have mulled over for quite some time. Enjoy, and be freed.
Jessie’s Guide to Being Alone
Step One: Make sure that you are indeed alone before you wallow. I cannot explain why it is so easy for me to feel lonely despite the knowledge that there are people, friends even, in my life, but it happens. Despite knowing that some great people are just a phone-call away, the lack of physical presence (or should I say the lack of constant physical presence) gets to me. I can experience a great night out and then come home to just feel… empty. Like someone should be there but no one is. It’s easy to believe that no one cares or understands because of course everyone should just be mind-readers and see my absolute need for companionship.
The problem with people is that they’re often pitiful creatures, myself included. Many people sincerely enjoy wallowing in self-pity. It’s something that can’t be fully comprehended, at least by me. I’m sure some fancy psychologists could use fancy words to analyze this sad, sad thing. To me, it’s just a stupid part of human nature that we can at least chuckle at (when we’re not crying). In all seriousness, this happens way too often: we believe that we are completely alone and no one in the world is there, when really a part of it is our own fault. We are blocking people out, not the other way around. There’s an all-too-easy-to-believe lie implanted in our heads that convinces us that being alone is how we ought to be. And that’s when the loneliness hits- because no one really deserves to be alone.
We were created for companionship, designed to experience friendships and family and relationships. When we shut these connections down and choose to isolate ourselves, whether it’s because of fear or shame or pride or some other heart issue, it’s no wonder we find ourselves racked with sorrow. Loneliness can sometimes actually be of our own doing. So step one is this: before you decide to wallow in loneliness, be sure you are really alone and not just forcing yourself to be.
Step Two: Do one thing by yourself and force yourself to enjoy it. I mean it. This is literally one of the most important things you can do when combatting loneliness. Confession: I used to hate, even loathe, the idea of eating by myself. I have cried numerous times over having to eat in the dining hall on my campus by myself. The idea of being surrounded by hundreds of people who don’t know me and most likely don’t care to know me scared me to my core. I have begged friends to eat with me, friends who actually have class and important things to do, just so I wouldn’t have to face a plate a food by myself. I have forced my previous boyfriend to stay on the phone with me as I eat dinner in my room just so I don’t fall apart and get tears in my spaghetti. It’s pitiful. I would do anything to avoid eating alone. So when I began this journey of learning how to be alone and conquer my loneliness, I had to do the one thing I dreaded doing. I began eating alone.
For the past couple months, I have been eating lunch by myself on campus and periodically spending long hours at Starbucks to get used to the idea of being by myself as I eat. And it’s strangely become easier and easier each time. I’m now at the point where I actually turn down offers to eat lunch with groups of people. You know why? I forced myself to do this thing, this awfully terrifying thing, and then I forced myself to enjoy it. That sounds harsh, but I really did. I made myself watch funny videos and laugh. I forced myself to journal and think about things other than how lonely I am. I watched sermons when I was feeling down. I worked on homework I would otherwise do at the last minute. That might sound simple to some, but it was actually extremely difficult for me at first.
For the first couple weeks or so, I sat down in Starbucks by myself only to find myself frantically texting everyone I know just to find someone to join me. I would isolate myself on campus to do my homework only to end up on Facebook five minutes later, hunting through my chat list for someone to talk to, searching for things to do with people I know. Thankfully, I don’t do this anymore, and the only way I got to the point I am at now was by practice. I practiced doing this one thing by myself and I had to keep telling myself it was a good thing until I actually believed it. And I genuinely do still believe it. As I’m typing this, I’ve been at Starbucks for a little over three hours, having fun by myself. Fathom that. I turned one thing I hated doing alone into an enjoyable and productive activity that I prefer to do alone.
I honestly believe step two is vital for anyone wanting to overcome the fear or sadness that comes from being alone. Try step two and find that one thing for yourself. It doesn’t have to pertain to eating. Maybe you don’t like watching movies by yourself or going shopping alone or spending hours in your room reading. Just pick one thing, do it ALONE, and force yourself to like it. It won’t come naturally at first but that doesn’t mean it can’t become natural. After a couple months of practice, you will find that it’s okay to be in your hermit shell.
Step Three: Get out of your hermit shell. This step must be completed after step two because if you just immediately leave your hermit shell, you might not actually know how to like your hermit shell when you find yourself back in it, which would pretty much negate any progress you’ve made. It is imperative that you complete step two first. With that being said, it is now time to discuss step three, which is scary but also a great tool for growing self-confidence.
Get yourself out there, you crazy party animal.
I don’t mean flock “to da club”, but at least plan to do something exciting and new with acquaintances. Yes, there is a reason I’m specifying that this must be done with acquaintances rather than friends. The thing about friends is that we get way too comfortable way too fast, and in a way, our friends become our hermit shell. We think that we’re being pro-active and social when really we aren’t doing anything new because we’re watching the same TV shows and eating the same pizza with the same friends. There’s nothing wrong with being close to people and having that awesome rat-pack (I most certainly have mine), but it’s vital that you allow yourself to branch out. When those friends leave town or get busy with projects and tests, you’re going to wish you knew how to talk to other people.
The next time you get invited to a movie night or out to eat with people you sorta-kinda know, accept the invite and go. You’ll wish you had your wingman by your side, but it’s not the end of the world to eat a meal with new people while striking up new conversation. Do this as many times as possible until you realize that some of these people you sorta-kinda know are now sorta-kinda your friends. Making new friends might not sound all that exciting, but if you think about it, pretty much every best friend you have now started out as an acquaintance. Think of what might have happened if you never branched out and met them.
Don’t ever stop putting yourself out there. Let yourself be vulnerable. It sounds scary, but it can actually be a freeing experience. And just to make you feel better, I’ll let you in on a secret: I suck at this. So if you struggle with step three, you’re not the only one.
Once you get to the point where you are comfortable doing this, you won’t be so panicky when none of your friends are around. You’ll know how to make new friends and how to be as cool as a cucumber in uncomfortable situations, and that’s a great confidence booster. If you stay in your shell forever, you’ll never really learn how to be alone, so please don’t hold yourself back from trying this. It’s something that is always hard at first, but it’s not the end of the world.
Step Four, Five, Six, etc: Lean on God, the friend who is always there. This sounds so cheesy, but really it’s the best thing you can do when you find yourself in utter loneliness. Even though I listed three steps before this, this step should actually be performed before, after, and during all other steps. Why? Because God supersedes any feelings that our mind convinces as us truth- feelings like fear and loneliness and shame.
I will be transparent here. I do not always believe that God is enough for me. When I’m feeling my worst and dealing with sadness, it is very rare that I actually reach out to Him right away. I do know He’s there, but because I cannot physically see, hear, or touch Him, I sometimes wish He wasn’t there at all. I sometimes feel like God fails at being a good friend to me.
But you know what I’ve learned? There will NEVER be another friend in my life as good as He. I have amazing best friends who encourage me, pray with me, push me to pursue my dreams, make me laugh and have fun, but none of them know every facet of my being. None of them are truly treasuring every word I speak and every tear I shed. None of them are actively opening up doors in my life, gently pushing me to their carefully planned wonders of my future. They don’t always answer phone calls or completely understand what I’m going through. God is the one who unlocks mysteries and pursues my heart every second of every day. Not them.
So when I’m lonely, why would I think that God should be my last resort? Why would I ever doubt His love or the freedom I have in Christ when it’s been so evident in years past?
Sometimes sadness feels so powerful, leaving us weak and defenseless. But are we really? Or have we just chosen to believe that because we don’t have the eyes right now to see otherwise? For years, I had my eyes closed to the goodness of being alone and even being in a community because I felt like anything other than constant companionship was a sign that I was unwanted or unloved. Loneliness was crippling my life, and it was all just because of lies- dumb lies that the enemy has been feeding me since I was a child. And these lies I can only reveal and conquer by faith. This is why the most important step is to lean on God. He’s the only way anyone can truly escape this maze of searching and yearning and unbearable loneliness.
Hi, I’m Jessie, and I’m a recovering lonely girl.
And you have now finished reading Jessie’s step-by-step guide to being alone.